A few months ago, my best friend from high school came to visit me with the goal of soaking in as much of the “New York Experience” as possible in her three-day visit.
And by the end, she didn’t get run down by a taxi, betrayed by terrible pizza, or scammed by an angry Elmo. She even loved my city. SUCCESS.
She was also my first official guest, so I knew it would be an adventure to see my new home through her eyes while figuring out how be a welcoming host in the bustling city. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know how. “You’re lost? Um, go find a Subway station? Check Google Maps? You’ll figure it out – at least it’s all in English, amirite??”)
Now, I’m not knocking the tourist experience – it’s great fun to be surrounded by the excitement and unique beauty of a new place. Meanwhile, I need to get over my newfound New Yorker snobbery (nothing makes me more indignant than a selfie stick these days) and take some time to enjoy the sights and experiences.
But obviously, there’s more here than initially meets the eye. I’ve already fallen in love with the fascinatingly diverse culture and authentic humanity that abides here, but sometimes it can be missed if you don’t dive beneath the surface of the tourist experience.
So there we were, standing in the subway station, waiting for our Greenwich village-bound E train, when I noticed the rats running along the tracks below our feet.
I stepped forward to count them and invited her to do the same – “Hey, look!! Authentic New York Experience right here!” – but she wrinkled her nose and refused, which is a completely normal, respectable response.
That’s when I realized why I appreciate the Subway Rats.
Yes, they’re gross and New Yorkers love to hate them, but then things like Pizza Rat happen and we all smile, tilt our heads and say, “Ah, New York.” Subway Rats are a representation of normal life in NYC, the down-to-earth, typically dingy perspective that can be found in every Subway station, from the fancy stops to the grungy ones.
Regardless of whether you’re the fanciest New Yorker or the most starry-eyed tourist, as you bop from one exciting city spot to the next, you have to encounter the Subway Rats while you wait for your next train.
They run along the tracks, bobbing over and under the rails, their tails lashing about, going as quickly as they can before the next train arrives. They determinedly forage for food amongst the discarded trash, working to keep themselves alive and feed their rat families.
Sure, they may be bit grody and I would 100% lose my flipping mind if they ventured up to my feet, but from a distance, I’m grateful for the Subway Rats.
They’re #keepingitreal in the midst of the flashy Times Square lights, Yelp-reviewed “20 Must-Visit Restaurants in Manhattan!”, and the ridiculously expensive Broadway shows.
Thanks for keeping us grounded, little buddies. 🐭
*Photo credit to Carin Fredere